How to overcome your fear of failure (with James Altucher)

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A funny thing started happening to me a few years ago. My business had grown a bit, and every week I started getting emails from people who wanted to work with me. (I later learned, people want to associate with success.)

So they would email me and volunteer to work for free. And some of them seemed really good. I would take them up on it, giving them a small project.

A week or so later, they would send me the project deliverables. Inevitably, some would have done a great job, others a not-so-good job.

I would always be candid. I would be nice, and polite, but candid. And with the candidates who did a bad job, I would calmly show them what they did great, but also where they didn’t live up to their potential.

50% of them would disappear, never to be heard from again.

Here’s what I think was going on: Many of these people were young — in college, or right out of college. In school, they’d only taken easy classes they knew they could get an A in. They had literally never tried something they had failed at. So when they heard someone giving them candid feedback, they didn’t know how to handle it. They freaked out — and disappeared.

The theory sounded far-fetched to even me…until it happened the 5th time…then the 10th time…and on and on.

Fear of failure is real. It holds us back from trying new things…from stopping a bad situation…from even considering new possibilities, because we’re so concerned with all the bad things that could happen.

We might not apply for that job because we’re “sure there’s no way I can get it”…we won’t talk to that girl (or guy) because she’s “out of our league”…or we don’t take that course that could potentially change our lives because “what if it doesn’t work for me?”

Worse, when we try to do something, we usually try to do it on our own — often a recipe for failure.

Successful people don’t succeed on their own. They have strong networks, and they pay attention to what the market is telling them.

For example, I didn’t get to where I am today on my own. I had lots of help. I can remember a handful of insights from others that saved me months or years. For example, professors nudging me to not go work at a hedge fund…or friends subtly asking questions (“Would that make you happy?”) that made my decisions obvious.

This idea of social support is at the heart of a new program I created: Ramit’s Brain Trust.

It’s a monthly program designed from the ground up to help you take action and make progress.

There are two parts to the program:

  • Monthly interviews with people in my inner circle, the masters and advisors I ask for help in productivity, health, psychology, and more
  • Membership to an exclusive community of ambitious IWT readers to hold you accountable, encourage you, and help you live a Rich Life

The first month’s guest is James Altucher, one of my writing heroes. James is an entrepreneur, investor (he used to run a fund of funds), and author.

I first got to learn about James when I came across his writing…LIKE THIS:

I loved talking to the skankiest prostitutes at three in the morning with a camera crew around me, fires burning in the street, sad, abused people clinging to scraps of life for their pleasures, bailed out prisoners and the drug dealers waiting for them to be released, homeless addicts with nowhere to go and they only weren’t freaks if you saw them at three in the morning .

In short,  I loved my job.

Or this:

I got this email the other day:

“Just saw you on CNBC. Shocked! I thought for sure I read you had hung yourself.

Well, now I have a new wish for Christmas!”

So its perfectly reasonable that an anonymous person from Washington DC (I tracked his IP address) would send me that note. He just saw an ugly person on TV. Kill him! It’s a natural survival instinct for the species. And now, with the Internet, he can act on this natural genetic instinct and send an anonymous email message. I’m in favor of that.

Or maybe this:

My initial judgement when I meet or even see people is this: I hate you.

[...] But consequently, I get more deals done, I get the occasional loss leader, and then ultimately the big fish gets reeled in if I get enough people to say “yes”. It’s like asking every girl on the street to have sex with you. One out of 100 will say “yes”. In my case it might be one out of a million but you get the idea.

I was excited to do the deal. I said, “Ok, I was thinking you would get 10% of the company.” He laughed and said, “No. 50%”. He didn’t even say “We would like 50%”. He just said, “50%”. I then used all my negotiating skills and came up with a reply. “Okay. Deal.”

I couldn’t stop laughing out loud. THIS GUY IS GREAT!!

We ended up becoming friends, and I discovered he’s even more brutally honest in person. Plus, he’s thought about success and failure in a way nobody else has.

I recently interviewed him for my Brain Trust course, and I wanted to share a clip with you:

If you’re interested in checking out the entire Brain Trust program, click here.

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3 Comments

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  1. [...] author of "I Will Teach You To be Rich", Ramit Sethi" about "overcoming your fear of failure". The link to the video can be found here. [...]

  2. [...] author of "I Will Teach You To be Rich", Ramit Sethi" about "overcoming your fear of failure". The link to the video can be found here. [...]

  3. [...] Advice number two was just a few weeks ago. I was listening to a talk by Ramit Sethi, who wrote the bestseller, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”. Ramit and I are doing a video in a few weeks where we read each other’s hate mail and analyze it. Ramit was saying to an audience of about 100 that when he doesn’t promote the products he is proud of it’s as if he’s “punishing the audience”. If a reader likes Ramit’s stuff, Ramit should communicate to them as clearly and often as possible when he has new things for them to read. Here’s another video Ramit and I did recently. [...]